When Ed Bruggink opened the first live butterfly show at Carleton University in 1999, he thought that like the life of the butterfly itself, its popularity would be fleeting.
Ten years later, the 10-day show — now an Ottawa tradition attracting 10,000 people annually — opens at the university’s Nesbitt Biology Building Saturday with over 1,000 butterflies of over 30 different species from all over the world, including Asia, Africa, Malaysia, Indonesia and Central America.
While the crowd favourite — the enormous Atlas moth — is returning, new species include the neotropical butterfly blue morpho and the orange dead leaf butterfly from Asia.
“Since it’s the 10th anniversary, we wanted to do something special,” said Bruggink, Carleton’s greenhouse manager for the last 28 years.
While the public can watch butterflies emerge from their chrysalises and fly free in the two display greenhouses, feeding the butterflies has become a common activity.
Bruggink used to provide oranges for the public to attract the insects, but over the years, visitors have learned to bring their own, he said.
As much as the show continues to grow, one thing Bruggink said he would never change is the free admission.
“It costs me between $5,000 and $6,000 to put it on, but I would never charge admission because this is educational,” he said. Still, with donations, he manages to break even every year.
While the lifespan of the tropical butterfly is very short — about three weeks — people shouldn’t feel bad for them.
“They have a great time in here, feeding and mating with no predators,” Bruggink said. “And they have lots of nectar plants to keep them happy. They’re having a great time.”